Press Release

April 10, 2007
Senator Highlights Importance of Stem Cell Research to Maryland's People and Economy

Oren Shur: 202-224-524

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) today issued his strong support for the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2007 [S. 5], which will expanding embryonic stem cell research and help our nation's scientists develop treatments for medical conditions that affect more than 100 million Americans.

“I believe we have a moral responsibility to appropriately advance embryonic stem cell research to help millions of suffering Americans,” said Sen. Cardin. “Doctors and medical institutions right here in Maryland are bringing us closer than ever to finding real treatments for chronic diseases. We need to help these world-renowned doctors expand this life-saving research, not stand in their way.”

Speaking on the Senate Floor, Sen. Cardin also highlighted the importance of embryonic stem cell research to the state of Maryland, its people, and its economy. In addition to the thousands of Marylanders who suffer from diseases for which embryonic stem cell research may unlock cures and weaknesses, the state is also home to leading stem cell research institutions such as the National Institutes of Health, Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland.

The following is Sen. Cardin's prepared floor statement:



APRIL 10, 2007

Mr. President, rarely does this body have a chance to cast a single vote that can offer so much hope to millions. This week, we will have that opportunity with legislation introduced by Majority Leader Reid.

I rise in strong support of his bill, S 5, the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act. This bipartisan legislation will enhance existing stem cell research and help our nation's scientists develop treatments for conditions that affect more than 100 million Americans. But this vote is not just about the health and lives of Americans. For years, the United States has led the world in medical advancements, and people from around the globe travel here for medical education and to perform research that will be used to save lives around the world.

This bill, S. 5, will make available new lines of research–research that will help the United States retain its place as a world leader in this burgeoning new field, while helping to alleviate the pain and suffering of patients here and in other countries.

Right now, American scientists receive limited federal funding for stem cell research. It has been nearly six years since President Bush issued his stem cell policy in August 2001.

It permits federal funds to be used to support research only on the stem cell lines that existed as of the date of his executive orderAugust 9, 2001.

The Bush compromise seemed reasonable to many in the scientific community at the time, as researchers at NIH believed between 60 and 78 stem cell lines would be available for use. In fact, only 22 lines were available and some of these were found to have been contaminated from contact with mouse feeder'' cells. In addition, the 22 available lines were developed using science that has since seen significant improvements. Scientists at NIH say that these lines lack the genetic diversity necessary to perform research for diseases that disproportionately affect minorities.

In short, there are real deficiencies in the President's policy. His policy has reduced the opportunities available for our scientists, and they have undermined progress in the field. America's policy has discouraged scientific exploration.

I believe that it is wrong for the President of the United States to tie the hands of our scientists while millions of Americans suffer from diseases that stem cells have the potential to treat.

Since the President's policy took effect, I have heard from hundreds of Marylanders who have debilitating illnesses, including leukemia, diabetes, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's, and spinal cord injuries. They are grateful for the federal research funding that Congress has provided in past years.

But they know, as I do, that we are capable of accomplishing so much more. I join them in looking to the future with hope that more effective treatments and someday, cures, will be forthcoming.

The most powerful case for stem cell research does not come from legislators or scientists. It comes from the patients themselves. Last summer, I had the privilege of hiring as a summer intern a young man named Josh Basile. An accomplished tennis player in his teens, he was paralyzed in a swimming accident at the beach nearly three years ago. This situation would present great difficulty for any of us. As an athletic teenager, the challenge was particularly daunting. First, Josh had to adjust to his new life as a quadriplegic.

Since that time, he has steadily regained movement throughout his body, including movement below the level of his injury, which was considered impossible. Now Josh has taken on yet another role, as a national advocate for spinal cord injury research and stem cell research, working with the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation Action Network and the Student Society for Stem Cell Research. His determination and courage are an example for us all.

I have also heard from the academic medical centers across America. These are the places where the most complex medical procedures are performed, where medical school graduates from around the world are trained, where our most groundbreaking research is conducted.

Two of the finest academic medical centers in the world are located in Baltimore at the University of Maryland Medical Center and at Johns Hopkins University. At Johns Hopkins, Dr. John Gearhart and Dr. Douglas Kerr are two of the foremost stem cell researchers in the nation. Their groundbreaking work has been recognized internationally and is bringing us closer than ever to finding treatments for life-threatening diseases. They and thousands of other researchers support this bill and know that the federal government should be supporting, not hindering, this progress.

Mr. President, I would like to quote another of my constituents who supports federally-funded embryonic stem cell research.

His name is Dr. Elias Zerhouni, and he is the Director of the National Institutes of Health and a resident of Baltimore. Last month, Dr. Zerhouni reiterated his support for lifting the current ban, stating that, “from my standpoint, it is clear today that American science will be better-served, and the nation will be better-served if we let our scientists have access to more stem cell lines.”

Some of my colleagues have raised ethical concerns about stem cell research, and that the legislation before us effectively addresses these concerns. This bill does not encourage the creation of human embryos for research or for any other purposes. Rather, it stipulates that all embryos used for research must have been originally created for in vitro fertilization and are in excess of clinical need; it requires that the embryos would not have been implanted and would have otherwise been discarded; and it requires donors to provide written consent before embryos may be donated for research.

These guidelines are ethically sound; they help ensure that enhanced research will not come at the expense of respect for human life.

Because there is so much misinformation being spread about embryonic stem cell research, it's important to look at the facts. Embryonic stem cells are derived from 4 to 5 day-old embryos. At this stage, they are known as blastocysts. Each blastocyst contains an outer layer of cells, and a cavity that contains about 30 pluripotent cells. This group of 30 cells is called the “inner cell mass,” and it forms all the cells of the body.

Scientists create embryonic stem cells by transferring this inner cell mass into a culture dish, where they divide and eventually yield millions of embryonic stem cells.

If after six months, the cells keep dividing and are genetically normal, they are referred to as a stem cell line.

The blastocysts that scientists are using come from eggs that were fertilized in IVF clinics, but never implanted. Instead they were frozen, and with the consent of the donors, they are donated for research purposes. Right now there are hundreds of thousands of frozen embryos in fertility clinics across this country.

Scientists have derived more than 150 stem cell lines from these embryos already, but cannot receive federal funding for research on them because of President Bush's executive order. This week, with this vote, we have the power to change that.

It is not certain that embryonic stem cell research will result in cures, but it is fairly certain that if we close off promising avenues, such as stem cell research, finding those therapies and cures will take much longer.

The issue of embryonic stem cell research is a controversial and emotional one. It touches on questions of human suffering, medical ethics, and scientific potential, the role of government, moral considerations, and life itself. S.5 strikes the right balance.

It encourages research, but it does not encourage the creation of embryos for research purposes. It allows us to support the efforts of the brilliant scientists in our research institutions who have dedicated their careers to alleviating the suffering of others. It allows us to honor the wishes of in vitro fertilization donors who want to make a contribution toward medical advancement.

In June 2001, two months before President Bush issued his stem cell policy, Sue Stamos and her daughter, Faith, came to visit me in my House office. At the time, Faith was three years old–a very brave little girl who had been diagnosed with juvenile diabetes. Sue asked for my support for federal research to help find a cure for Faith, and I promised to do everything I could to help.

Back in 2001, our knowledge of stem cell research's potential was nowhere near what it is now, and we did not yet know what the President would propose.

Today, six years later, we have much broader and deeper knowledge about the scientific possibilities of stem cells, but much less capacity to research stem cell lines than we had anticipated. Last year, I voted to keep my promise to Sue and Faith Stamos and to the thousands of other Marylanders who are waiting for cures. Today, again, for Faith, Josh, and thousands of other Marylanders, I will vote to expand the stem cell lines available for federally funded research. I hope that my colleagues will join me in sending a message to Americans that this Congress will not stand in the way of medical progress.

Both the House and Senate passed this bill in the 109th Congress, only to watch it face the first veto of George Bush's presidency. Now, in this Congress, in the first 100 days, our colleagues in the House of Representatives have done the right thing by passing this legislation. It is time for the Senate to follow suit, and send this bill to President Bush, this time for his signature.

I urge my colleagues to pass S. 5 overwhelmingly.